2020 Opponent Scouting Report: Bears Defense, will this weekend be Chuck Pagano’s revenge?

On Octorber 4th, 2020 the Indianapolis Colts will travel north to take on the Chicago Bears In this Week 4 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

No matter what happens with the Bears the first thing I will always think of when I think of this team is Super Bowl XLI. Since that fateful, rainy, evening in Miami, these two teams have met three times, the Bears winning twice. The Colts won their last meeting back in 2016. This season we think we have an idea of who both these teams are after just three games, but how will both teams look when facing each other?

Let’s see what we can expect in week four.


Chuck Pagano spent six long years in Indianapolis as the Colts head coach. After his firing he took a year off from football before returning to become the defensive coordinator of these Chicago Bears. Choosing to return with a team like the Bears was probably an easy decision for Pagano, I’ll cover all of the talent on this side of the ball but if you’ve followed football at all in the past few years you’re probably familiar with guys like Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith. I don’t feel like I should have to tell a group of Colts fans what a Pagano defense looks like, but there are probably a lot of misconceptions about Chuck and what he actually dials up as a play caller.

Before we get neck deep into video clips, you should expect to see a 3-4 base defense that uses a lot of zone coverage in the back end, unless they’re blitzing. They’ll usually be in man coverage if they bring more than four pass rushers.

I realize that a lot of Colts fans probably think that Pagano prefers tight man to man coverage and that’s not true. The reason you think that is because during most of his time in Indy Greg Manusky was in charge of the defense as the defensive coordinator. Manusky is the one who prefers man coverage.

Standard look

Here the Bears come out in with five defenders on the line of scrimmage. One drops into coverage while four rush the passer. The linebackers bite hard on the play action (a staple of Chuck Pagano teams) before dropping into their zones. The defensive backs drop into a cover three shell. The play action ensured that there would be a throwing lane over the middle.

The Bears will mix in different blitzes and Pagano likes to send his inside linebackers, some Colts fans might remember Jerrell Freeman’s 5.5 sack performance in 2013. And they will use man coverage without a blitz but it’s uncommon.

If you block Kahlil Mack with a TE you’re going to have a bad time

The Bears bring seven defenders, the Falcons have seven blockers. By doing this the Bears ensure they get the one on one matchups they want. If you combine this blitz with tight man coverage that takes away the quarterbacks first option there’s a really good chance someone like Kahlil Mack is going to get to the quarterback before he finds a good option.

Obviously if you can protect the quarterback, leaving four defenders in coverage is going to lead to someone coming open eventually. I expect to see the Colts pull Quenton Nelson to block Mack on a few passing downs in this one. It’s a better option than praying Jack Doyle can hold up long enough for Philip Rivers to find someone.

Soft zone

There are six defenders here for two routes and they give up a 15 yard completion. It’s easy to criticize a defense if you just sit back and collect clips of their worst plays. That’s really not what I’m doing. I believe their philosophy is to play safe football and capitalize when the offense makes a mistake.

Which is a nice way of saying, this defense plays passive football. They don’t attack, they don’t play fast (even though they have plenty of speed on the field). A season ago the Bears gave up the 4th fewest points and the 8th fewest yards, but I can assure you those rankings had far more to do with talent than this system.

Big plays

The Bears work hard to not give up big plays. They’ve allowed a couple this season but for the most part they keep routes in front of them and they rally to the ball. If the Colts work in plenty of play action, T.Y. Hilton could end up having a really nice day.

Mesh

Mesh concepts are going to kill zone defense all day long. It’s almost not fair. The Giants do a good job clearing out the underneath to open up room for the receivers crossing. Had the Bears sold out to cover the crossers, someone would have been open deep.

The Bears defensive system is simple. It’s not going to confuse anyone with any regularity. They’re usually willing to let teams play take short gains and wait for them to make mistakes. If the Bears play the Colts the same way they’ve played their other three opponents this season and as long as Philip Rivers is willing to take what these Bears give him, the Colts won’t have a problem diagnosing the defense and moving the ball on Sunday. Getting the ball in the endzone might be another story.


The Bears are playing without star nose tackle Eddie Goldman who opted out of the season. It might seem hyperbolic to call a guy who had 29 tackles and 1 sack in 2019 a star, but he plays nose and when on the field he’s really good at what he’s asked to do.

Filling in for him is Bilal Nicols. You’ll also see Akiem Hicks, Roy Robinson-Harris and Brent Irvin line up with their hand in the dirt. Also, depending on where you look, you might see Robert Quinn listed as a defensive end or an outside linebacker. Most often if Quinn in on the field he’s there to rush the passer, so I’m going to consider him a defensive end.

Also in the defensive end vs. outside linebacker debate is Kahlil Mack. I did notice several times the Bears dropped him into coverage and even though I detest the idea of dropping a pass rusher like Mack in coverage I guess I understand trying to catch a quarterback off guard. Regardless, I’ll talk about Mack in this section, even though you probably already understand just how good he is at hitting quarterbacks.

Teach tape

Again, I want to point out how easy it is to find all of a teams worst plays, highlight them and make a player or team look awful. I assure you that’s not what I’m doing here. Watching the Bears vs. Lions game it felt like Adrian Peterson was ripping off long runs consistently (he was) and the Bears had no answer. Their defensive line couldn’t get off their blocks, they weren’t maintaining their gaps, honestly reviewing this film had to be embarrassing for them.

“It was week one without a preseason”

That’s true and I believe that might be a valid explanation but they allowed 4.17 yards per carry to a bad Giants team who was missing Saquon Barkley for most of the day. They followed it up by allowing an astounding 5.76 yards per carry to the Atlanta Falcons who averaged 3.32 yards per against the Dallas Cowboys and 3.43 yards per against the Seattle Seahawks in week one.

Simply put, the Bears have a problem stopping the run and that problem starts up front with this defensive line.

A good play

See, I told you I wasn’t just giving you the low-lights. On this play Brent Urban uses Taylor Decker’s momentum and pushes the left tackle down the line. Meanwhile the slot receiver pretends to try to block the defensive back who comes screaming around the edge and you’re left with this play.

Matt Stafford should have tried to get them in a better play on this down, it was seriously doomed from the start given what the Bears were showing before the snap. Regardless of the play call the Bears defenders still had to execute and make the play, so giving credit where it’s due, they did that on this play.

Robert Quinn

Do the Giants have the best offensive line? No. Is Robert Quinn still a problem off the edge? Absolutely. Between Quinn and Mack these Bears don’t have much trouble getting after the quarterback. You’ll often see Akiem Hicks’ massive frame getting after the quarterback too, with his 3.5 sacks so far this season.

The Bears only have seven sacks so far this year but given their talented pass rushers I expect that number to rise, greatly, as the season goes on. Hopefully it starts rising in week five.


The names to know here are 2018 8th overall pick, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, James Vaughters and Barkevious Mingo. No seriously, Barkevious Mingo has played nearly 45% of the Bears defensive snaps this season. Chuck Pagano loves him some Mingo.

Watching this group on tape I saw how athletic Roquan Smith looks and how Danny Trevathan is rarely where he needs to be. Smith is fast no doubt about it, but I’m not sure I saw him get off a block. Too often Smith will get in position only to get easily pushed out of the play by the nearest offensive lineman. Trevathan on the other hand, from my limited watch, seems like a complete wildcard and even when positioned well, has also struggled to disengage from blocks.

LB Blitz

Both inside linebackers appear to be on a blitz on this play. I believe that Bilal Nicholas stunts to his right so that Smith can blitz through the A-gap. Instead Nichols gets driven down while the left guard locks on to Smith and takes him 10 yards out of the way of the play.

You could make the argument that Trevathan was held but ultimately he didn’t do enough to get off the initial block to draw a flag. Even if the guard held on too long, Trevathan might have been able to bring down the ball carrier with an arm tackle but he did little to close the gap and prevent this play.

Consistent

Here the ball is four yards past the line of scrimmage before Danny Trevathan even realizes who has the ball. Meanwhile Roquan Smith is bending to the will of the offensive lineman and the defensive backs are left to tackle Todd Gurley.

Someone file a missing persons report

Because Danny Trevathan is lost.

That’s it. That’s the analysis I’m giving you for this clip, just that lame joke.

Oh Danny Boy

Smith plays this down fine. He’s doing a good job making sure he’s taking away the cutback, all Danny Trevathan has to do is fill his gap and… wait why did he do that? Trevathan appears to make a cut back across the left guards face and in doing so he helped to stop the pursuit of both the nose tackle and Roquan Smith. All he had to do was be patient and stay in the way, maybe shed a block that came his way, instead he largely creates this hole.

Oh Roquan

Roquan Smith knew exactly where this play was going. He initially filled the gap and was then treated like that one friend you have that always seems to get himself thrown out of bars. You don’t really hang out with him anymore because you’re way too old to still have friends that regularly get thrown out of bars but you watch clips of Roquan Smith and it makes you wonder how he’s doing and you think about shooting him a text but you’re afraid it will just make it awkward when he wants to meet up for drinks and you have to make up excuse after excuse that you can’t go.

Maybe that’s just me?

Anyway, Roquan Smith gets erased from relevance on this play and most like it. One thing I will say about Smith, what I saw from him in coverage looked encouraging and he is good bringing down the ball carrier as long as he isn’t blocked, which should be obvious but I didn’t explicitly show a clip of it so I thought I should mention it.

I was always under the impression that Danny Trevathan was a decent linebacker. Maybe he’s just struggling this season, maybe he’s banged up, maybe he thought there wasn’t going to be a season and spent the past few months eating nothing but Oreo’s and drinking milk. I’m not sure but through three games this year he’s been very not so good.


The names to know: safties, Tashaun Gipson, Eddie Jackson and Deon Bush. Cornerbacks; Kyle Fuller, Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine.

Gipson and Jackson will play most of the game on the back end for the Bears. Both have been forced to stop the run more than they would probably like. Jackson leads the team with 17 solo tackles. Gipson, in addition to his 11 solo tackles also has one interception on the season. Both safeties have been solid so far for these Bears. Deon Bush has played fewer than 45 snaps for the Bears but has still managed to snag an interception.

Kyle Fuller his been good given what he’s been asked to do this season at corner for the Bears. As has Jaylon Johnson. Buster Skrine hasn’t been good in coverage but has 13 solo tackles and is a strong presence stopping the run, which is odd given his position, but it is a Chuck Pagano defense.

Speed

Eddie Jackson is a very good safety but here he was surprised by Calvin Ridley’s speed and he nearly got beaten for a huge touchdown. This is out of character for Jackson but also the Bears in general, as they focus so hard on not giving up the big play. It was a bad rep but it also shows that they can be beaten over the top.

Man to man

Most often when I noticed the Bears in man coverage they were doing a good job. On this play they do such a good job taking away Matt Stafford’s passing options they’re able to break through to pull him down for the sack. He just didn’t have anywhere to go with the ball.

Watch #26 on the right side of this clip

That’s Deon Bush against Evan Engram. Bush was in good position but he didn’t close on the ball quickly enough and then after he allowed the completion he failed to bring down the talented tight end. Bush might be tasked with covering Mo Alie-Cox this weekend and I believe the advantage will go to Cox.

As long as the Bears continue to drop back into soft zone coverage between the 20’s their corners, despite their talent, won’t be much of a factor. Once inside the 20, their natural ability will be more limiting and the Colts will have to be careful of what matchups they try to take advantage of.


The Bears defense doesn’t scare me. Maybe it should. It’s certainly talented enough to, but the play calling hasn’t been effective and some of their athletes natural abilities have been limited by the system they’re in.

Having said all of that, the Colts have had a lot of trouble finishing drives and getting the ball into the endzone this season. Near the goal line this Bears defense can afford to be more aggressive and use their talented roster to prevent teams from scoring points.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t love that combination for our Colts. Pagano’s defense is still maddening to watch, but with the Bears he has elite talent to work with, which for Bears fans is probably even more frustrating.

This defense doesn’t scare me as a Colts fan but it might be the most talented the team will face all year. Sunday will be the toughest test of the young 2020 season.